Washington State takes the prize for the longest political drought in the country, when it comes to a Republican trying to win the Governor’s Office.
The candidate trying to change that this year is Bill Bryant, a former Port of Seattle Commissioner, but an unfamiliar name to many before he decided to launch a bid for Governor.
So—why does Bryant think he’s the man for the job, and who is the person behind the politician?
KING 5 spent a day with Bryant to find out.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Bryant grew up not wanting to be a politician, but rather a marine biologist.
In fact his collection of preserved ocean life is still on display at Bryant’s former grade school, Griffin Middle School in Olympia.
“I had all of the specimens of practically everything that lived in Hood Canal,” Bryant told KING 5, pointing to jars of sea life preserved in formaldehyde.
“These were all stacked on shelves above my bed,” Bryant recalled. “The kid who was doing this probably thought he would be on some research vessel out in the Pacific, not running for governor of Washington state. That wasn’t the path that I was going when I was putting this together.”
Putting the collection together started in Mason County, along Hood Canal, where Bryant spent his early years through 7th grade.
The oldest of five, Bryant’s dad also taught at his first school, Hood Canal School in Shelton.
On a recent trip back last month, he told students a lot of the stuff he learned in Hood Canal motivated him to run for Governor.
“One of the reasons I’m running for Governor is because of this place,” said Bryant.
“Because I grew up in a district that didn’t actually have all the things that everybody else had, I want to make sure you guys have the same chance, and that your kids have that same chance.”
Bryant touts education and environment as two of his top priorities.
“I want to make sure that when I die, Puget Sound is cleaner, more vibrant, healthier than when I was born. That’s on my list of things to do.”
A lofty goal, but Bryant believes the effort starts with projects like preserving the Nisqually and restoring salmon and steelhead runs.
“You’ve got to pull the sports, commercial, and sovereign tribal fisherman together and come up with a ten year plan on how we’re actually going to manage the catch,” he said.
Bryant calls it a political minefield but says he doesn’t care.
“Frankly, I’m not running for governor to get a second term. I’m going down there to make some changes in education and to help save Puget Sound, and if as a result of it, I’ve made some enemies, and I don’t get re-elected, I’ll know I’ve done something good and I’ll go back to my job.”
Bryant counts Republican Governor Dan Evans as a role model growing up.
His interest in politics started as a late teenager when he became interested in trade. He served on the state’s trade council under Governor John Spellman, the last republican governor in the state. He also briefly worked for Democratic Governor Booth Gardner.
Bryant later founded an international trade consulting and lobbying firm, Bryant Christie, and he served as a Port of Seattle Commissioner for two terms. Ironically, the same day Bryant announced for Governor, the Shell Oil rig arrived into town, a lease Bryant supported, but a decision not without criticism from local environmental groups.
“There were some personal friends who said Bill you need to not extend this lease to Foss knowing they’ll have Shell as a customer for symbolic reasons. I said that’s symbolism at expense of middle class and it’s got to stop.”
Bryant said he made the decision to support the lease, only after he was assured there would be no environmental impact to Puget Sound.
He calls his biggest achievement as a Port Commissioner the consolidation of the Seattle and Tacoma Ports. His biggest regret, he says, not doing enough to save Puget Sound.
“That’s part of the motivation for running for governor, because I realized there was a limited amount I could ever do as a port commissioner.”
Bill’s Father, Bill Bryant Sr. says he had a hunch much earlier.
“I was at a Republican function, and a guy walked up to me and said, ‘Bill, you told me thirty years ago he would be the next governor.’”
Bryant’s wife, Barbara Feasey isn’t a stranger to politics either.
A Political Science major from UW, Feasey worked in D.C. for Republican Senator Slade Gorton in the 80s. Coincidentally, it was around the same time her now husband was studying at Georgetown.
Their paths didn’t cross until they both moved back to Washington State.
“I’ve known that he might run for governor, pretty much since for as long as I’ve known him,” she said.
When asked about Bryant’s greatest strength, Feasey says his character.
“Lots of integrity,” she says. “He really is who he is, and who he seems to be.”
His biggest weakness?
“Ice cream,” she admits. When asked if it’s been an election season staple, Feasey laughs she doesn’t keep it in the house.
The numbers show it’s an uphill battle for Bryant, but he’s a determined candidate, like a salmon swimming upstream, or in his case swimming against political currents—this year muddied by national forces, including a polarizing presidential race.
“There have been naysayers telling me whole life I couldn’t do something,” he said.
A new Elway poll reveals Democratic incumbent Governor Jay Inslee with a lead 51 to 39, with 10 percent undecided.
Inslee has also received a number of key endorsements, including from environmental groups, in part because of the candidates’ positions on environmental policies and action on reducing carbon pollution in Washington State.
Inslee also received the Seattle Times Editorial Board endorsement unlike four years ago.